Native American Leaders Explored Plans at First Ever Tribal Marijuana Conference

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By Juliette Fairley

Tribal leaders from all over the United States attended the first ever Tribal Marijuana Conference in Seattle on February 27, 2015, to discuss the possibilities of commercial marijuana now that the federal government says it will no longer prosecute marijuana use and cultivation on tribal lands.

“A lot of the tribal leaders believe that medicinal marijuana will be a service to their people,” said Rob Porter, a tribal law expert and former president of the Seneca Nation in New York. “It’s been marketed as a green light but there is a lot of complexity on how it will all work.”

Rules that exist in state law do not always apply to Indian reservations on sovereign land. For example, when it comes to revenue from marijuana sales, a tribe could launch an Indian chartered bank or credit union that accepts deposits from dispensaries.

“Indian reservations are on the cutting edge and can take advantage of limitations in federal law,” said Marc J. Ross, a corporate and litigation attorney in Manhattan who is teaching a business of marijuana class at Hofstra University School of Law. “Those limitations as it relates to cannabis include banking and 280E taxation. These are two avenues where Indian reservations can secure a competitive advantage.”

The Tribal Marijuana Conference explored the legal, business, social and cultural opportunities open to Indian reservations interested in pursuing commercial marijuana cultivation, manufacturing and distribution in tribal jurisdictions. The one day event was held at the Tulalip Resort Casino.

“There aren’t any tribal regulations around marijuana yet but there may be a few brewing in draft form,” said Porter who organized the event along with co-sponsors Hilary Bricken and Robert McVay. “So far only tribes in Washington and California have announced their decision to pursue this business opportunity.”

Those tribes are the Suquamish in Washington and the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, which is reportedly planning a $30 million grow facility in Northern California.

“The economics of how a business is established on tribal land will be up to each individual’s tribal regulatory schemes,” Porter said.

“The challenges of tribal leaders won’t be what other cannabis CEOs face in terms of marijuana business operations,” said Adam Laufer, co-founder of MJ Holdings (OTCQB: MJNE), a marijuana real estate investment firm. “For Indian reservations, it’s about allocating resources and responsibilities to the endeavor and less about federal limitations.”

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